diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 25, 2016

If you want your launch event completely overshadowed, schedule it for the day of a referendum. Or maybe that's the very best day of all, the eye of the political hurricane when all the euro-hoohah pauses, allowing other news stories to break through. Here are two big debuts, a hundred metres apart, in the Olympic Park.

Firstly, The Slide.

The Orbit has been very much a white elephant since it was added late to the Olympic Park skyline, and has struggled to attract visitors in large numbers. It's been hard to convince people to pay good money to see views of Stratford, even with the Olympic Stadium nextdoor, and even cutting the admission price/creating an annual pass/adding a bit of abseiling hasn't helped. The sticking plaster is a dramatic one - the world's longest tunnel slide - and might finally be enough to entice the public inside. It's been designed by Carsten Höller, who specialises in this kind of thing, and promises riders a 40 second descent at up to 15 miles per hour. How could an adrenalin junkie possibly resist?

The slide opened to the public on Friday, but they sent a load of journalists down it on Thursday, because no media outlet ever turns down the opportunity to whizz down a giant corkscrew for free. Back in 2012 they'd have written about their experience in excitable terms, but this is 2016 so instead they strapped video cameras to their bodies and let the journey do the talking. Some pointed it down, so you could experience the twisty rush into darkness with spluttered commentary, and others pointed it up, so you could watch the look on their faces as they sped, dropped, turned and shrieked.

The shrieks are quite audible from outside, even from standing outside the compound on the grass. It is just possible that the media sent their shriekiest journos on this assignment, but rest assured that this is no fairground helter skelter. They make you wear an unfetching helmet and padded sleeves before you set off, and there are some particularly steep bits on the corkscrew down. You also have to be at least 1.3m in height, and at least eight years old, and no more than 22 stone in weight, otherwise presumably there's a risk of doing an Augustus Gloop part way down. But be warned it's a lousy spectator sport, bar the occasional whizzy glimpse through one of the few windows in the curly tube.

All this positive publicity and the promise of excitement seems to have worked. The next week is fully booked, and all the weekend slots are taken for a month, which at the Orbit is unheard of. There are still loads of £10 tickets to simply go up to the top and look at the view, if anyone's still interested, but the £5 slide top-ups have rather less availability. How fitting that on the day the ex-Mayor's political destiny was sealed, one of his larger misjudgements finally got the sticking plaster that saves its life.

ORBIT PRICES * Adult  Child  Senior 
Walk-up£12 £6 £10 
Online£10 £5 £7 
Local†£8 £3 £5 
* The Slide costs £5 extra, per slide
† Resident of Olympic host borough, bring double ID
‡ Annual Pass prices are not advertised

Secondly, the West Ham Store.

West Ham are moving from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium, and the first bit of their new empire to open is the shop. It's three times larger than the one they used to have, and is located in a new concrete building wrapped round the southern perimeter of the main concourse. At the moment it's fenced off from everything else on the island, and is accessible across a single footbridge, But it opened for the first time on Thursday morning, the ribbon cut by team captain Mark Noble, and the team's supporters came streaming across from Stratford to take a look.

It's a football shop, so obviously it's stuffed with football shirts of various types and sizes. New season strips, souvenir editions, and miniature editions for offspring so small they don't yet realise they're a fan. There are also key rings and wallets, and teddies and mugs, and big hammers, and loads of other items of claret and blue merchandise previously unavailable elsewhere. Vice-chair Karren Brady and her team have gone to a lot of effort to ensure that these things fly out of the door even on matchday, with 31 tills lined up at the far end. You can watch Karren extolling the shop and other hospitality facilities at the new stadium in an exuberant video here.

Downstairs is a large personalisation area, with a dozen shirt-printing machines, should you want to walk around with the name of a hero (or your own) on your back. There's also a cafe, which it's hoped will be a draw seven days a week, looking out over the training pitch alongside. It's been branded West Ham United Coffee Co, but also serves tea, as well as muffins, pre-packaged rolls and a tiny range of beers and wine. A latte's £2.35 and a turkey and ham sarnie £4, should you agree this is somewhere "you can meet and mingle". At least there'll be something for you to watch on the walls, as huge screens play out favourite moments from past games - and this got a big thumbs up from one fan I encountered.

A nice touch is that the famous John Lyall Gates from the Boleyn Ground have been relocated, and now sit at the top of the stairs. But they do look wildly out of place, a dash of Hammers history in a place that as yet has none of its own. This could have been any Westfield store, except it's a ten minute walk away, at the heart of the 2012 bubble that West Ham must now make their own. As yet, the atmosphere is somewhat lacking.

Also in the Olympic Park this week...
» On the big lawn beneath the Orbit, an oil company is setting up big white marquees so it can hold a massive four day festival. Make The Future London runs from 30th June to 3rd July, and your pre-registered free ticket gets you inside a worthy scientific gala focusing on "tomorrow's energy challenges", or rather a wall-to-wall marketing shindig for Shell. Steamrollers were busy yesterday afternoon laying down fresh smooth tarmac ready for the anticipated cavalcade of eco-wheels.
» The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival reaches the Olympic Park this weekend, specifically the concrete expanse of Mandeville Place about halfway up. The People Build takes place today and tomorrow, with spectators helping French artist Olivier Grossetête and crew raise new buildings, and at the end of the event tear them down. A full artistic programme continues around East London until next weekend.

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